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Squamish post-graduate granted prestigious Trudeau scholarship

Foundation helps food policy expert complete UBC PhD with $180,000 award
Food, glorious food Sophia Murphy, 46, is going back to school to get her PhD with support from the Trudeau Foundation. Photo submitted

Squamish resident Sophia Murphy has been awarded a prestigious Trudeau Scholarship worth $180,000 over three years.

She is currently completing her first-ever university teaching contract at Quest University while also working with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) in Minneapolis. A writer, public speaker, advocate and lecturer with 20 years of experience working on food security, agriculture, trade, and international development, Murphy was thrilled to learn she had won what many academics consider the most distinguished scholarship in Canada.

Murphy, who also has two kids in elementary school, plans to attend UBC for three years with the scholarship funds working toward her PhD in resource management and environmental studies.

She wants her work to help nations protect and promote the human right to food.

"Food security gets tackled from lots of different angles," she said. "I'm trying to pull together these different ways of thinking about the problem, to help build food systems that support food sovereignty."

Murphy already has degrees in politics, philosophy, and economics from Oxford University and her master's (with distinction) in social policy and planning in developing countries from the London School of Economics.

Speaking from her office at Quest, Murphy said her husband is a history tutor at Quest. When people at Quest learned of her background she was asked to deliver a course on food systems at the university.

"I do a lot of writing, editing, quite a lot of policy advice and I do it from home," she said of the consulting work she does for IATP and other organizations. She said leaves Squamish four or five times a year for business trips. Organizations like the United Nations and the Canadian Council for International Co-operation have used her expertise.

Murphy said that while she was completing her commitment to Quest the rest of the Trudeau Foundation scholars met in Prince Edward Island.

"The whole process really kicks-in in August," said Murphy. "I'll start school in September and I think as of now I'm part of what they call the Trudeau community."

Asked what she expects she'll get out of it once she has her PhD, Murphy had a quick answer: "I don't know exactly," she said.

Part of her motivation was to meet more people in B.C. to add to her large working network.

"I still feel there's a lot to learn, to come at some of these questions I've been working at for a long time and maybe gets some new ideas and fresh perspectives," Murphy said. "For afterwards I'm interested in policy, I'm interested in how people govern themselves and what we might do to make better choices."

Murphy said she has taken an interest in food issues in her home. She has done some volunteer work with the Climate Action Network in Squamish on food policy and food security issues.

"The whole local food movement has been hugely positive," said Murphy. "Even just to plant a garden is a way of changing how you see the food and think about food. I think it just opens a window. The same with a decision to buy fair trade coffee instead of whatever coffee is cheapest that day. You start to think a bit about the connectivity of what you're doing. I think the way an industrialized food system works disconnects us from where food is from and how to prepare it and how to get the most out of it. Local food work is usually slowing you down and forcing you to pay more attention to some of the details."

Paying attention to detail is causing people to change how they think about food. While she said growing more food locally and relying on imported food less isn't the solution to all challenges she said that it does make a difference.

According to a news release from the Trudeau Foundation, Murphy is one of 14 doctoral students sharing in $2.5 million in scholarships.

"This cohort of scholars consists of the best minds in the best institutions studying crucial and complex issues for Canadians and the world," said foundation president P.G. Forest. "The Trudeau scholarship will provide them with the conditions necessary to generate innovative solutions in their area of study."

A Canadian institution with a national purpose, the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation is an independent and non-partisan charity, which supports outstanding individuals who make meaningful contributions to critical public issues.

It was established in 2001 as a living memorial to the former prime minister by his family, friends, and colleagues. In 2002, the Government of Canada endowed the foundation with a donation of $125 million with the unanimous support of the House of Commons.